Stealing is wrong. That’s a moral absolute. Taking your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses and using them to improve your own performance is just good business. Every company in any field should always keep a close eye on what their main rivals are doing. It’s no different when it comes to SEO.
Competition is a healthy part of business. Monitoring and trying to better your direct competitors is what keeps firms sharp. It encourages innovation, prevents complacency and offers inspiration to improve. SEO competitor analysis is how you achieve that kind of one-upmanship in the area of web traffic and SERP ratings.
When a business or website embarks on an SEO strategy, competitor analysis is far too often overlooked. Companies jump straight to researching keywords, seeking out links and creating their content. By doing so, they’re skipping over what is a key aspect of truly efficient SEO.
It is only by completing SEO competitor analysis that a firm gets a proper idea of where they stand in their field. That understanding of their position is what can then tell them where they should be aiming and what they can do to get there.
Real competitive intelligence about your rivals improves all aspects of SEO. It lets you know who you ought to be looking to outrank on SERPs. It shows you the keywords for which you should be ranking and where you can go to look for backlinks. Above all else, it also shows your own SEO strengths and weaknesses as well as those of your rivals.
That’s why we’ve created this guide to good SEO competitor analysis. We’re going to talk about the process in depth and tell you everything you need to know. That will include how to do competitor analysis but starts with exactly why it’s important to do so.
We have written a 3,000 word article on how much does SEO Cost, this should include competitor analysis.
The title of this post is perhaps a little misleading. We’re not suggesting that you should head to a competitor’s site, copy their content and then paste it onto your own landing pages. Neither are we advocating lifting chunks of text from their posts and using them in your own blog. Moral issues aside, Google would not look kindly upon the duplicate content.
What we are suggesting is that you should have a full and complete understanding of everything your rivals are doing. In SEO as in life, the mantra of ‘keep your friends close but your enemies closer’ remains valid. It is only by knowing your enemies that you can hope to consistently beat them.
SEO competitor analysis is the process by which you can get all the details you need about your rivals. It will provide you with data about which SEO tactics are working for those rivals. As you’re in the same field, it’s likely that those tactics could also work for you.
The competitive intelligence you get from proper analysis will also help you to identify your own areas of weakness. Those will be the places where your competitors are outdoing you. Recognising that gives you a roadmap for how to improve your SEO strategy.
Good analysis of your competitors’ SEO can also reveal lots of things about SEO in your niche more generally.
It will reveal important keywords in your field. It will also let you know how competitive each of those are. You can then assess if there will be a good ROI if you choose to try and compete for them. Worthwhile backlink strategies will also become clear, as will domains from which you can try to get useful links.
For all of those reasons and more, SEO competitor analysis is key to any overall SEO strategy. That’s why you will want to know everything there is to know about performing it effectively.
The exact process of SEO competitor analysis can and should differ from one company to another. Your individual niche, your target customers and your overall business goals will all have an impact on the shape of the process.
There are some general areas of, or steps toward, a good analysis which will apply to all firms and sites. It is these different areas which we’re going to provide an in-depth rundown of below. This is not a step-by-step guide but rather a collection of hints and tips.
Taking what you will from our advice should help you get the competitive intelligence you need to blow your rivals out of the water. To begin the process, however, you need to first know exactly who those rivals are.
To perform SEO competitor analysis, you need to know who your competitors are. That may sound obvious but identifying your SEO rivals is perhaps not quite as straightforward as it sounds.
You probably have a pretty good idea of who your direct business competitors are. You spend all of your time trying to better their products and poach their customers. These firms will likely be amongst your SEO competitors, but they won’t be alone. Your SEO competitors can come from anywhere and everywhere. It isn’t only firms in your own niche who might be your rivals in the world of SEO. Any site or page ranking for a keyword which you’re also targeting is a direct SEO competitor.
Say you’re a sportswear company. You might have a blog on which you post articles about sports news or recent results. In an ideal world, you’d like those posts to rank for keywords like ‘football’, ‘sports’, ‘sports news’ or similar.
Competition for those keywords will not come just from other sportswear firms. You’d have to go up against high authority sites like BBC Sport and Sky Sports, as well as newspaper websites. You must know the keywords you want to target before you can start identifying your SEO competitors.
That means performing some keyword research. We go into some depth describing how to perform keyword research elsewhere, but let’s just refresh your memory.
To generate target keywords, you need to put yourself in the shoes of your customers. Building a customer persona is a good way to do this. It will help you work out the topics that your customers will be interested in. You will then be able to produce a list of possible headers, bodies and long tail keywords related to those topics.
Testing out the viability of those keywords can then be as simple as popping them into a tool like the Google Keyword Planner. That will give you details like the search volume for each keyword and how competitive the keyword is. From there you can decide which keywords will deliver the best ROI. They are the ones that you should look to target.
Finding your SEO competitors becomes straightforward once you’ve identified those target keywords. Your first port of call should be the first SERP for each of your identified keywords.
The pages and companies listed there are your main competitors for those keywords. The pages ranked most highly on that first SERP are your biggest rivals. That means the pages in the top three positions or in the coveted ‘position zero’ if there is one.
In case you don’t know what we mean by position zero, it is the name given to the featured snippet at the top of some Google SERPS. Google started including those featured snippets back in 2014. They aim to display succinct answers to searchers’ questions.
Some snippets are quick answers or knowledge panels with little relation to SEO. Others use third-party information to provide an answer. They include the title and URL of the page from which the information is sourced. It is these snippets which are referred to as position zero. Getting a page or site into that position is like gold dust from an SEO point of view.
A quick glance at the SERPs for your keywords will show you the pages and domains you need to compete with. There are also some competitor analysis tools that you can use to make sure you get an accurate picture of your competition. SpyFu, for example, lets you input your domain or a target keyword and then produces a list of competing sites and pages.
Once you know who your competitors are, you can start analysing the strengths and weaknesses of their SEO.
Competitor keyword analysis is a crucial part of overall SEO competitor analysis. It can give you a whole host of vital data to inform your SEO strategy. There are three main elements to competitor keyword analysis.
To look at the difficulty of ranking for particular keywords, you need to focus on your rivals’ pages. Specifically, those pages you identified earlier as ranking highly for the keyword in question. You will then want to analyse certain factors related to those pages.
The most important factors are things like page or domain authority, web traffic and similar metrics. These are the ranking factors that Google will have accounted for in giving the pages their SERP rankings.
The easiest way to get that information is by using another SEO competitor analysis tool. Site Explorer from Cognitive SEO is a good example. Through that tool, you can plug in the URL of a competitor and then receive all the data you could want.
This first stage of competitor keyword analysis helps you to further refine your list of keywords to target. You can strip out those which are too competitive and give more attention to the easier targets.
When trying to improve your SERP ranking for any keyword, you need to beat out the sites already ranking for it. Keyword gap analysis is a vital step in doing so. It is the process of identifying the keywords that high ranking pages rank for and you do not.
Tf-idf analysis is a great method for identifying those keywords. A tf-idf value reveals how frequently a keyword appears on a page, compared with how often it would generally be expected to appear. A higher value means that the page deals with the subject of the keyword more directly than most other pieces of content.
You can find a more in-depth analysis of tf-idf here. Our brief description, though, should have revealed its importance to competitor analysis. Performing tf-idf analysis on a competitor’s page gives you lots of great information.
It can reveal what keywords and subjects their content covers better than yours. It can also ID related keywords and niche topics that neither you nor your rivals cover well enough. That gives you a steer as to how you can improve your content to their level and beyond.
We all know that SEO isn’t only about keywords. Your SEO competitor analysis also needs to look at what your rivals are doing in different areas. To achieve a high SERP ranking, they will have built up an impressive backlink profile. You need to dig into that profile and learn lessons from it.
What is most valuable to learn is where your rivals are getting links from. There is no way to get this information manually, so you will once again want to lean on an SEO analysis tool. In this case, your best bet may be the Link Explorer tool from Moz.
Link Explorer lets you enter the URL of a root domain, subdomain or exact page. It will then generate a huge amount of data related to the domain and its backlinks profile. You will see the domain’s inbound links, top pages and linking domains amongst other things.
You can also choose to compare the link profile of the domain with another. Choosing to compare it with your own, is how you can identify what your rival is doing differently to you in the area of backlinks.
This provides many options for you to tweak or adapt your own backlinks strategy. You may have found sites or domains that link to your rivals but not to you. You can then reach out to them and try to redress the balance.
You may also notice a different pattern to the inbound links of your rivals. They might tend toward links from different types of sites. Where you have lots of links from blogs, they might get theirs from e-commerce sites or other sources. If they’re ranking more highly than you, it might be a good idea to tweak your backlinks profile to more closely resemble theirs.
What we’ve covered so far in our guide to SEO competitor analysis are off-page factors. They are not the only things to look at. You will also want to look at your competitors’ pages and their content to evaluate on-page factors. We’re talking mostly about the discernible quality of that content.
There are lots of different things to consider when assessing content quality. You will want to think about how relevant content is to the site or company’s niche.
How well content meets reader intent is also important. Google is all about content being genuinely useful to readers and providing them with real answers to their questions. A good indicator of overall quality is how comprehensive your content is. Lengthy articles that really get to grips with a subject are better than short, vague pieces of content.
This stage of your SEO competitor analysis requires more work on your part. You can’t use an SEO analysis tool to mine data. You need to read your competitors’ content and make a subjective assessment. You can then compare the quality of the content with your own. That will give you an idea of if and how your content needs to be improved.
As well as rewarding high-quality, Google also views user experience as an important ranking factor. They tend to rate sites which are easier to navigate higher than others. They also like sites to be accessible to as many different users as possible. That means users on their phones, on tablets, laptop, and desktop.
When assessing competing pages and sites, you’ll also want to look at user experience. That means checking how mobile-friendly a rival site is. Since 2015, sites that aren’t mobile-friendly have been penalised by Google. Google also give preference on SERPs to sites that load quickly.
Good competitor analysis will identify and assess how rival sites perform in these areas. If highly ranked competitors outdo you on user experience, that’s a definite area for you to improve. If their user experience isn’t top-notch but they still rank highly, it’s an area where you might make significant gains on them.
As a digital agency in Bristol, we’re all over social media. The exact relationship between social media and SEO is somewhat shrouded in mystery. Google has stated that they do not treat shares on social media in the same way as links. It’s widely accepted that there is some correlation between social media presence and better SERP ranking.
A recent Searchmetrics white paper, in fact, came to that exact conclusion:
‘The top-ranked websites in Google’s rankings display vastly more social signals than all other pages….This is primarily due to the overlap between brand websites performing strongly in social networks and being allocated top positions by Google.’
That makes how your rivals use social media another important element to include in SEO competitor analysis. You’ll want to look at which platforms your competitors do and don’t use. It will also prove useful to note how often they share content and of what types. Whether they directly communicate with other social media users could also prove illuminating.
That information can help you to adjust and tweak your own social media usage. Even if the exact impact this has on SEO is uncertain, it can deliver other benefits. Following the lead of competitors who excel in social engagement can only help you to improve customer relationships.
Only through healthy competition can businesses stay sharp and on top of their game. Looking to better your rivals is not a matter of ego. It’s how firms stay afloat and ensure they best serve their customers. You can only better your rivals if you understand exactly what it is that they’re doing.
In the case of SEO, the way you can get to know your enemy is by performing SEO competitor analysis. That process begins by correctly identifying your competition. It then covers everything from the keywords they target, to the links they’ve achieved, all the way to how they use social media.
Armed with all of that information, you can improve your own SEO. You’ll know how to improve your content and where to look for new links. You’ll also understand how to amend your site architecture and what other technical adjustments you might make.
Knowing your enemy is the key to improving your own SEO.
Stevie Carpenter is the Head of Content & Outreach at accelerate, an SEO agency that specialises in SaaS. With over 10 years agency experience, his CV includes most content-related roles you can think, from writer and editor to manager. Presently he oversees two departments that operate across the world, delivering high-quality content for SaaS brands looking to scale.